KENOSHA ⏤ Near the end of the Kenosha Common Council meeting on Monday, Ald. Anthony Kennedy had one message for his colleagues: Listen ⏤ even if things get ugly. 

“We have to understand that some people don’t have the ability to express their pain in ways that are constructive,” Kennedy said. “And so we’re going to have to be prepared for that.”

4 more sessions planned

Kennedy, who represents the city’s 10th District, gave his comments at the end of the Kenosha Common Council’s regular meeting Monday.

Kennedy comments refer to the first of four planned listening sessions announced by Mayor John Antaramian on Sept. 14. According to the information given at a press conference on that day, the listening sessions are “to get public input about thoughts and suggestions to move the community forward and provide the City with ideas on how to unify and move forward together.”

Feedback from the four listening sessions — planned for Sept. 20 at Journey Church; Sept. 27at Second Baptist Church; Oct. 4 at Kenosha Public Museum; and  Oct. 11 at St. Mark’s Catholic Church — will be integral to the city’s Commit to Action Roadmap. 

A partnership with area faith-based leaders and input from the U.S. Department of Justice helped set the basis for that roadmap, according to city officials.

‘Some very forcefully’ 

Ald. Jan Michalski, who represents the 3rd District, spoke during the alderman’s comments portion of the council’s Monday meeting to thank his colleagues and express gratitude to the public for coming to the first listening session on Sunday.

“I’d like to quickly applaud my fellow alderpersons who showed up at the listening session that you held at Journey Church this past Sunday,” he said. “We helped to basically set up and get people to the church using a lot of protocols for social distancing.”

He also particularly applauded “people that came, that stated their positions.”

“Some very forcefully, some less so,” Michalski said. “And I’m looking forward to the comments that people make at the next three listening sessions.”

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‘We need to listen with empathy’

Kennedy, too, thanked his colleagues and the people.

However, beyond encouragement, he also offered his colleagues advice.

“We need to listen with empathy,” Kennedy said. “And understand that, while some of us think Kenosha is a great town ⏤ and I believe in Kenoshan exceptionalism ⏤ but also understand that that view is not monolithic throughout Kenosha. And the experiences people have in one part in our town, might not be reflective of the other part of our town.

“So listening to these multitude of voices, I think, is very, very important.”

He also acknowledged that the shooting of Jacob Blake “has put us on the map, and has made us a media target.”

“But I think it’s also done some other things too,” Kennedy said. “It’s forced me to have conversations with people who may or may not have wanted those conversations. And I can tell you that some of those conversations were very animated and very engaged. 

“But the honesty that I was hearing from having those conversations, the realness that I was experiencing with those conversations, I am extremely grateful for.” 

‘Excited’ about Kenosha’s future

Kennedy stated that the police shooting of Jacob Blake on Aug. 23 by Kenosha Police Department Officer Rusten Sheskey created a before and after mark for the city.

“Our town has changed,” Kennedy said. “And Kenosha before the shooting is Kenosha before the shooting. Kenosha, after the shooting.… we don’t know what that’s going to look like. Still, I am very encouraged by people who are passionate, people who are vocal, and people who are demanding more representation, demanding more accountability from us. 

“And even as these things are starting to coalesce and starting to form, they’re demanding some accountability from themselves.”

But, you won’t see these things unless you get out among the people, he said.

“I’m getting encouraged by what’s happening in our community on so many levels,” Kennedy said. “And so I just want to say again, to the people in our community, the people in Kenosha who are engaging on all kinds of levels ⏤ engaging the mayor, engaging police, engaging alderman, engaging each other — this is how we’re going to get through this … not get through it. This is how we’re going to thrive. 

“I am very excited about where Kenosha is going.”

Still hope

However, he acknowledged that things would not be “hunky-dory.”

“There’s still some pain, I think, in the city,” he said. “There’s still some pain that our constituents are feeling. And we have to be aware of that.”

And though this pain can manifest in both constructive and destructive ways, it doesn’t dim the brighter future for the city in Kennedy’s eyes.

“I’m still encouraged. I still have hope.”

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Daniel Thompson is an independent journalist and the founder of The Uptown Observer based in the Kenosha, Wis., area. He started in journalism at the Western Nebraska Observer in 2012 and, most notably,...